Andalucía is the southernmost territory of Spain and the part of the Iberian peninsula that is most quintessentially Spanish. The popular image of Spain as a land of bullfights, flamenco, sherry and ruined castles derives from this spectacularly beautiful region. The influences that have washed over Andalucía since the first paintings were etched on cave walls here more than 25,000 years ago are many – Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and Vandals all came and left their mark. And the most influential invaders of all, the Moors, who ruled the region for seven centuries and named it al-Andalus, have left an enduring imprint on Andalucian culture and customs.
Granada, dominated by the Spanish peninsula’s highest mountains, the snowcapped Mulhacén and Veleta peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The city is not only the highlight of its province but one of the great destinations of Spain, as the home of Andalucía’s most precious monument, the exquisite Moorish Alhambra palace and gardens.The city preserves, too, the old Moorish quarter of Albaicín and gypsy barrio of Sacromonte – places filled with the lingering atmosphere of this last outpost of Muslim Spain – as well as a host of Christian monuments, including the beautiful Capilla Real, with the tombs of Fernando and Isabel, Los Reyes Católicos.
The smallest of Andalucía’s eight provinces, Málaga is also its most populous, swelling to bursting point with the sheer weight of visitors in high summer. Although primarily known as the gateway to the Costa del Sol and its unashamedly commercial resorts such as Torremolinos and Marbella, the province has much more to offer than just its coastline.
In the west of Málaga’s provincial heartland lies the Serranía de Ronda, a series of small mountain ranges sprinkled with gleaming, whitewashed pueblos blancos (White Towns), of which Ronda, located astride the stunningly beautiful El Tajo gorge, stands on an enormous outcrop of rock. The centre of town is split by a Bridge built in the 18th century. Wander across the bridge and you are in La Ciudad (old town) inhabited in old days by groups of marauding bandits. During the course of the day you will also see the town’s impressive Cathedral, the Bullring, San Juan Bosco House and the Mondragón Palace.